interacting with humanity’s closest relative

The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (ACCI) is the only research facility in North America to house and study bonobos. An endangered great ape species, bonobos can be found only along a small stretch of the Congo River Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa in the wild.

saving the bonobos

The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (ACCI) is dedicated to the conservation and protection of Great Apes worldwide, as well as responsible and sustainable research aimed at uncovering the evolutionary origins of human language, cognition, and behavior. We aim to use the knowledge we gain from studies with great apes to better humanity by increasing public knowledge of our species’ origins and our connection with the natural world. With a focus on Science, Conservation, and Civic Engagement, ACCI is uniquely positioned to emerge as a leader in a new era in great ape cognition and conservation research.

Located on 230 acres of pristine Iowa hardwood forest in Des Moines, Iowa, the ACCI facilities include 6 acres of ape-accessible outdoor space. The family of bonobos in residence include the world famous Kanzi, Nyota, Elikya, Maisha and Teco.

The Lexigram Keyboard allows bonobos at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative to communicate electronically with their human caretakers and visitors. Kanzi is the most famous of the five bonobos at ACCI. He uses his keyboard to compose sentences from a set of over 500 lexigram symbols representing words and ideas.

With a focus on Science, Conservation, and Civic Engagement, ACCI is uniquely positioned to emerge as a leader in a new era in great ape cognition and conservation research.

We are working to make the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative an international scientific destination. Under the direction of Jared Taglialatela, PhD. and William Hopkins, PhD., our programs aim to enrich the lives of our bonobos and increase our understanding of great apes worldwide. By using lexigram boards to communicate with their caregivers, our bonobos are able to be active participants in their daily care.

We further hope to foster relationships with local universities to provide educational and research opportunities such as training programs in the behavioral sciences and internship programs for veterinary medicine. In time, we hope to train a new generation of scientists who can continue to learn from the apes and increase our knowledge of ourselves.

ACCI can be a valuable resource for schools and organizations that share in our mission to educate individuals of all ages. One of our long-term goals is to promote scientific literacy, conservation education, and environmental stewardship in our local community and beyond. We plan to work closely with educators to provide our facility and unique population of apes as a resource to supplement and expand existing public school STEM initiatives.

meet the bonobos

Bonobos are a rare and endangered species with fewer than 200 in captivity worldwide. In the wild, they are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The greatest threat to a wild bonobo is poaching. Adult animals are killed and infants are then seized for sale in the pet trade. One of our goals as an institution housing bonobos is to be diligent in discouraging the image of great apes as pets and seek to promote their conservation in the wild.

born 1980.

Kanzi is a superstar. Born in 1980, he was adopted by Matata when six months old. He is regarded as the first great ape to demonstrate real comprehension of speech. Kanzi can comprehend novel spoken English sentences. When he is introduced to a new object that he does not have a word for in his lexigram vocabulary, he combines words and symbols to describe the new item. He can make and use tools, start a fire, and like most captive apes, paint. He enjoys playing chase and using the lexigram keyboard to make choices and interact with his caregivers regarding his activities and meals for the day.

born 1998.

Nyota is the son of Kanzi’s late sister, Panbanisha. He was born in 1998 and is instrumental to research investigating cross-generational effects of language and culture. Nyota understands some spoken English and, like Kanzi, combines lexigrams to illustrate new ideas. He likes to wrestle and tickle Teco as well as play chase with the other bonobos. Nyota is our most thoughtful and gentle ape. His favorite food is celery and can usually be seen napping or sitting quietly under a blanket. He also enjoys picking flowers from the outdoor yards.

born 1997.

Elikya was born to Matata in 1997. After the death of our beloved Matata in June 2014, Elikya became the matriarch of the family. She spends her time building large nests of blankets and tickling with her son Teco. Elikya is strong-willed and loves to dictate her family group dynamics. She wins over the hearts of all the humans that work with her. She loves requesting home-grown green tomatoes from our ACCI garden as she lounges in her favorite spot outdoors

born 2000.

In 2000, Matata gave birth to her last born, Maisha. Maisha enjoys spending time with the rest of his bonobo family and foraging in the bonbos’ six acres of outdoor space. Maisha never misses an opportunity to be silly and playful with his human caregivers. Maisha is our stubborn “trickster” who laughs and plays often. His favorite foods are hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and cottage cheese which, in moderation, provide excellent and healthy sources of protein for our apes.

born 2010.

Teco, the youngest member of the bonobo family and the only bonobo born in the state of Iowa, already uses lexigrams and responds to spoken English.  He is the son of Elikya and Nyota, and is full of energy, and loves nothing more than to tickle and play with all of the members of his bonobo family.  Teco's favorite activities include running through sprinklers and swinging from the extensive network of artificial vines indoors and out at ACCI.

Together, Kanzi, Elikya, Nyota, Maisha and Teco are helping our research scientists uncover the evolutionary origins of human language, cognition, and behavior.

ACCI will not only shed light on what it means to be human, but provide invaluable insight into human developmental and communicative disorders.

you can help

To achieve our mission of making ACCI an international scientific destination we need your help. Caring for our bonobos and maintaining their facility costs thousands of dollars per month. A one-time donation of $50 provides enrichment supplies for our apes for an entire month, while a donation of $1000 provides water for the whole facitlity in that month. Donations are 100% tax deductible.

Your donations go directly to the care of our apes.

For research information, please contact us at

corporate sponsorship

Interested in joining our family of corporate sponsors? ACCI offers a variety of sponsorship levels to fit your corporate needs. Contact us for more information about program and project sponsorship opportunities and to receive a detailed sponsorship packet.

515.243.3580  |  4200 Evergreen Avenue  |  Des Moines, IA 50320